After tuna scandal, Subway has a plan to freshen up its reputation: meat slicers

The sandwich chain has had a rough couple of years. Can new equipment help turn things around?

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published August 19, 2022 12:29PM (EDT)

A Subway restaurant exterior (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A Subway restaurant exterior (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Subway has had a rough couple of years. The build-your-own sandwich chain has been embroiled in an ongoing scandal that the internet unceremoniously dubbed TunaGate 2021 — not to be confused with the 1985 Canadian political scandal — after a pair of customers alleged that its tuna sandwiches "partially or wholly" lack tuna. 

Last month, a federal judge denied Subway's request to dismiss the lawsuit. It was another blow to a chain that had already weathered high-profile complaints about the objective quality of its food. 

There was the viral assertion from the blogger known as Food Babe that Subway bread contained a "yoga mat chemical." (The chemical, azodicarbonamide, is a bleaching agent commonly used in flour and dough conditioner in North America, in addition to being found in synthetic leather.) Then, there was the story that Subway's bread contained too much sugar to be classified as bread in Ireland. Plus, the claims that the chain's chicken was actually "half soy" — a statistic Subway leadership said came from a "stunningly flawed test."

However, Subway has unveiled an innovative addition to its kitchens that promises to freshen up its reputation. Two words: meat slicer. 

Alright, so this common piece of deli equipment may not solve all of Subway's image problems. However, Jonathan Maze reported in Restaurant Business Online that the chain "plans to add automatic slicers in all 22,000 of its restaurants over the coming year." 

"In five decades worth of sandwich making, we've explored many things, tested many things, tried many things," Trevor Haynes, president of Subway North America, said in an interview with the outlet. "This is the natural next step of the evolution of the U.S. business and operations."

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The addition of the meat slicers was first announced last week at the company's franchise convention in Las Vegas. "Subway will slice meat in the mornings and in the afternoons, rather than slice the meat to order like fast-growing rival Jersey Mike's," Maze wrote. "Restaurants may also slice meat again as needed later in the day." 

Unused meat can be used again the next day.

This is a shift from how Subway currently operates. Up until now, deli meats are sliced at a central facility, wrapped and then sent to individual restaurants. Haynes expressed hopes that the move would "improve the company's reputation for freshness, as customers over time notice the freshly sliced meat." 

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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